Dec 10, 2010
Saxophonist, flutist and composer James Moody died on December 9,2010 at his home in the San Diego area. He was 85 years old. Moody had been suffering from pancreatic cancer and had recently chosen to decline treatment by radiation or chemotherapy.
Moody, who preferred to be called by his last name, was born in Savannah, Georgia on March 26, 1925. It is little known that Moody was born partially deaf. As a result when he was young and unable to hear the teacher, he was labelled mentally deficient and ordered to attend a school for the mentally disabled. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to Newark, New Jersey, where he attended public school. Eventually, his hearing problem was diagnosed and he was sent to the Bruce Street School for the Deaf He later attended Arts High in Newark, N.J.
His uncle gave him an alto sax when he was 16. After hearing Buddy Tate and Don Byas perform with the Count Basie Band at the Adams Theater in Newark, New Jersey, Moody switched to the tenor saxophone. He was just 18 years old when he was drafted into the Air Force in 1943 during World War II. Unable to play with the white Air Force band, Moody played in an unofficial Negro Air Force band for three years. He was disturbed by the segregation that was prevalent in the military service at that time. Incredibly, he met Dizzy Gillespie while in the Air Force, as Gillespie came through for a performance on the base. After he got out of the service, in 1946, he joined the recently formed Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, one of the most important jazz groups at that time.
In 1949 Moody moved to Europe, and in Sweden that year he recorded his tour de force of improvisation on the Jimmy McHugh Tin Pan Alley tune "I'm in the Mood for Love" (which can be heard on James Moody & His Swedish Crowns on the Dragon label). Back in the States, pioneering vocalese artist Eddie Jefferson penned lyrics to Moody's exact solo on that tune and dubbed it "Moody's Mood for Love."
Meanwhile, an unknown singer named Clarence Beeks-aka King Pleasure-heard Jefferson sing his vocalese version of Moody's masterpiece at the Cotton Club in Cincinnati. Beeks promptly committed the performance and song to memory-the lyrics, phrasing and all of the nuances. In November 1951, Beeks sang Jefferson's signature vocalese offering at the Apollo Theater Amateur Hour, winning first prize along with a contract to record the tune for Prestige. The 1952 release of King Pleasure's debut recording, "Moody's Mood for Love," became an instant hit, to the utter surprise of Moody, who found himself an "overnight sensation" when he returned to the States that same year. He became a fixture in festival concert circles, and in demand as both a bandleader and a sideman for the rest of his life.
On March 26, 1995, a 70th birthday celebration for Moody, hosted by Bill Cosby, was held at New York's Blue Note club. Telarc recorded the show and released it as Moody's Party: Live at the Blue Note. He followed that up with two tribute recordings for Warner Bros.: 1996's Sinatra tribute Young at Heart (Click here for the title track)and 1997's Moody Plays Mancini.
He made several recordings during the last decade of his life, including Homage, Moody 4A and Moody 4B, the latter two for IPO. Moody 4B was recently nominated for a Grammy award.